Tag Archives: national book festival

We Geek Out at the Book Festival

I’m catching up on some old business, but I’d be remiss not to write about the fun we had doing two days at the National Book Festival.  In case you don’t know, this is a massive festival on the National Mall where authors of all genres as well as book supporting organizations like C-SPAN, PBS and Reading is Fundamental all turn out to give talks, sign books and promote reading books.  Past talks are already up on the website of the book festival and I’m sure this year’s will be as well before too long.  Check it out here.

The Good…

We saw a bunch of authors for a short spell in various places and got to hear Michael Buckley read a bit of the newest (unpublished) Sisters Grimm book, Harry Bliss draw a bunch of cute pictures, Jon J. Muth talk about Zen, and Bob Shea talk about becoming a writer and illustrator.  For the kids, one of the Saturday highlights was seeing Tomie de Paola, who talked about becoming an artist and taught everyone to blow three kisses the way Strega Nona would.  They also enjoyed getting free Magic School Bus books and meeting a costumed Ms. Frizzle.

The Best…

One of the best things quite surprised me.  I dragged the kids in to hear the first part of Rita Williams-Garcia’s talk.  I adore her books.  I reviewed One Crazy Summer awhile ago here.  She was so sweet and clearly a little nervous.  Then she told a couple of stories from her childhood – about growing up without enough and having to draw on her inner resources.  I pulled the kids away for something else I thought they would enjoy more.  Later on though, they talked about her speech and were clearly very affected by it.  I was impressed.

The next highlight was William Joyce.  He came in dressed in some excellent gear – a helmet, goggles and a fake jet pack.  Then he proceeded to give an wonderfully nutty speech about crazy relatives, becoming a children’s book author, and all the guardians of childhood from his new series.  He walked a fine line where he never gave it away that he didn’t believe in the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and so forth.  In fact, I’m sort of convinced he does.  I don’t review fiction picture books often for this blog, but we had already read Joyce’s brand new book The Man in the Moon and were simply amazed.  It’s beautiful.  The illustrations and the zany elements of the story are pure Joyce, known for his Dinosaur Bob and the Family Lazardo and Rollie Pollie Ollie.  However, it’s also got a magical quality to it and the illustrations are slightly gothic and steampunk influenced.  I highly recommend it.

The final highlight was definitely Kazu Kibuishi, who writes the Amulet series.  BalletBoy asked him at his talk about the fifth Amulet book, and he told us he was working on it right now, then he pulled the binder out of his bag and showed off the pages before quickly closing it up!  Wow!  Mushroom asked about his characters and we got another cool answer.  I appreciated hearing him talk about his Miyazaki influences and hearing that his great Flight series is going to be rebranded under the Flight Explorer label for younger readers.  Overall, it was just a true geek out moment.  Later on, we stood in line so BalletBoy could get his copy of the third book signed.  We’ve already read the fourth one, but from the library, so it probably wasn’t okay to get that one signed.  He drew BalletBoy a picture in the front and I gushed my thank yous to him for doing what he does for young readers.  I really mean it too.  He said immediately that there’s not enough out there and it’s so true.  There’s more coming out, but kids need high quality graphic novels like his, books that respect the readers.

After we left, BalletBoy clutched his signed book all the way home (yes, even the Metro ride).  Then he paid the series one of those ultimate compliments from a kid.  He declared he wanted to be Emily, the protagonist, for Halloween.  So, now I need to come up with an awesome costume.  He has also declared that he needs me to be Miskit, the giant pink bunny robot.  Hmm…

The Bad…

Not exactly bad, but we were pretty amused by this organization, which tries to get parents to read aloud 15 minutes a day to their kids.  When they asked the kids if the parents read aloud for 15 minutes a day to them, Mushroom rolled his eyes at them and BalletBoy looked very confused.  “You read way more than that,” he told me.  And Mushroom added, “Everyone reads aloud more than that.”  Oh, would that it were so, kiddo.

This year the festival introduced a “Family Storytelling Stage” sponsored by Target and featuring a mix of storytellers, authors and bands, including Justin Roberts and other kid friendly musicians.  Great idea, right?  Well, I guess it could have been, except when we were there, the emcees were Disney channel emcees and they spent the whole time trying to encourage kids to watch Disney, Disney Junior, Nickelodeon and Discovery Channel.  You all know I’ve got nothing against TV.  I love TV.  My kids watch TV, including things I think are excellent that were produced by those outlets, such as Phineas and Ferb and Avatar: The Last Airbender.  But do kids need a pep rally to watch TV?  I was pretty disgusted by it all.

The Ugly…

This year at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, they provided water for people for the first time via big water dispensers where you could refill your bottle or cup.  But the Book Festival folks decided to go with untold boxes tiny plastic bottles for everyone.

That was nothing compared to the “prize” you see above from the PBS Kids tent.  It’s a piece of sticky plastic with an online only PBS Kids character on it that you put on your phone to keep it from sliding around.  I just…  am speechless.  Who is this really for?  Why did they give thousands away?  Why do children need a thing for phones?  Why would adults want a phone sticker with a very obscure children’s character?  You guys, I’m not much of an environmentalist.  I recycle, I bring my bags to the grocery, but that’s about it.  But this is really bread and circus level waste, right?  And at a book festival.  I’m just sort of ashamed for us as a society.

I Wish I Was that Kind of Book Blogger and Other Thoughts from Last Week

Prepare yourself for a rambling post.

All ready?  Okay.

We’re slowly working our way through our Great American History Expedition Checklist.  Not many done so far, but two that seemed appropriate for while we’re doing pre-Columbian America and the dawn of the 16th century were the National Museum of the American Indian and the exhibit about the “discovery” of the Americas at the Library of Congress.  We’ve done them both for fun before, but this time it was school related.  Yeah, it’s not that different, but still.

There are a lot of things to recommend the American Indian museum.  Architecturally, it’s pretty awesome.  The collection is fascinating.  While we were there, we saw tons of interesting artifacts – both things we haven’t gotten to yet in our studies and things we have like Clovis points and Mayan sculpture.  We went through the “Our Universes” exhibit, which highlights some different tribes (including the Maya and the Inka, which was useful for us studying those two cultures) and focuses on traditions and storytelling.  The problem is that everything is such a mishmash.  I feel it every time I’m there.  I understand the benefits of seeing a whole bunch of animal sculptures in a single case so you can do cross cultural explorations.  And I get that they were trying to make a unified political statement about the value of indigenous American cultures across the board.  But when you can’t find out what culture or geographic region anything is from because there’s a total lack of signage and the computer touch screens that are supposed to stand in for signs are complete junk, then you’ve really over homogenized a diverse array of peoples and robbed us of our ability to get any sense of the scope of history and geography as visitors.

Luckily, while the scope was very different, the small exhibit at the Library of Congress was excellent.  They had a larger number of indigenous artifacts than I expected along with European documentary records about the initial clash between the two worlds.  Things were arranged in a logical progression.  Plus, there were cool old maps at the end.  I’m a sucker for old maps.  Also, their touch screens not only work, but provide real information I wanted to know about.  The whole thing reinforced for me how utterly frustrating I find the American Indian museum.  Plus, it’s architecturally interesting too.  There’s the kids fascinated by the floor on our last visit.

After we finished the exhibit, BalletBoy begged me to go down to the Young Readers Room.  This is a seemingly secret basement children’s library inside the Library of Congress where they keep lots of current children’s literature that has been stamped “extra copy” and looks about as beat up as at most regular libraries.  Maybe if you’re a senator, you can take your grandkids there and check out books for them?  But for the rest of us plebs, it’s for looking only.  It’s a bright, happy space with room for programming, lots of comfy chairs, tables of coloring pages, and a pretty adorable little puppet theater you can play with.  They have a few interesting things, like an entire copy of a Harry Potter book in Braille (it takes up a whole shelf!) and, most tantalizingly, a whole table of ARCs and galleys.

I must say, when I saw the selection of ARC’s, I wished quite fervently that I were the sort of book blogger who might receive ARC’s occasionally.  Alas, I am not.  But there was a new Grace Lin,  a new Catherine Gilbert Murdock fantasy, a Daniel Handler YA, and a Katherine Paterson novel called The Flint Heart that which looked downright delightful.  I read the first few pages of that one and I suspect it will make a great read aloud when it comes out.

Most excitingly, though, one of the books BalletBoy has been bugging me about literally every week was there!  The next Squish book by Jennifer Holm doesn’t come out for another month, but there on the table, I found an ARC for him!  He sat and read the entire first half of the book, but wanted to save the rest for when he can have it for real.  If they’d had an ARC of the next Amulet book, I suspect he wouldn’t have been able to be pulled away.

As we left, the kids picked up posters for the National Book Festival in a few weeks.  If you’re local and don’t know this event, it’s really a treat.  In our most memorable year, we had the pleasure of seeing (nearly back to back), Holly Black and Tony Diterlzzi, Mo Willems, Steven Kellogg, Megan MacDonald, and Jon Scieszka and David Shannon.  It was just as amazing as it sounds.  You know you’re jealous.  Here’s the lineup for this year.  They’ve added an extra day and a “storytelling stage” which includes a lot of great authors too.  Sorry soccer practice, but we’re totally there – books over brawn.  The weekend of September 24-25.

In my final bit of ramble, after we left the Library of Congress, (and bought BalletBoy’s new ballet shoes since we were on the Hill anyway), we went over to the brand new Yards Park next to the Nats stadium.  I’ve been meaning to go for awhile, but it kept not happening.  We’ve not been at a lot of baseball this season.  Well, I must say, it’s completely and utterly awesome.  If you’re local you must go.  I command it!  Mushroom, BalletBoy and I played a slightly epic game of Hide and Seek there.  But that’s not a commandment, just a recommendation.